Mommie Dearest is a memoir and exposé written by Christina Crawford, the adopted daughter of actress Joan Crawford. The book, which depicts Christina's childhood and her relationship with her mother, was published in 1978. In the book, Christina Crawford claims that she was a victim of child abuse during her mother's battle with alcoholism and that her mother was more concerned about being an actress than a mother, suggesting she may have adopted children as a publicity stunt to promote her acting career. She implies Joan had a long list of affairs with men whom Christina was required to call "Uncle" and rarely "Daddy", and claims Joan also had many affairs with women. Christina suggests that as she grew older and more difficult to control, Joan found excuses to remove Christina from the home by sending her to various boarding schools and strict religious academies, often insuring in her instructions that Christina be allowed no contact with the outside world. Often these schools were used as a means of retribution for Christina defying her mother or fighting back against abusive behaviour.
Christina recounts several evenings where Joan's behaviour was unbalanced, and at least one encounter with her mother where Crawford attempted to strangle her. In another encounter, Joan reportedly discovered Christina's clothes hanging in a closet on wire hangers, instead of higher-quality padded hangers, and caused significant drama on the subject. In an incident in which Christina refused to eat very rare beef, Crawford ordered the meat returned to the refrigerator and refused to allow Christina any other food for several days until she finished the meal (though Christina managed to hold out until her mother gave up and allowed her regular meals again). Joan allegedly disposed of her children's possessions to punish them for minor transgressions. Joan also supposedly strapped Christina's younger adopted brother Christopher to his bed each night until he was twelve, ostensibly to control his sleepwalking.
Christina reported that Joan's controlling and erratic behaviour continued throughout Christina's adulthood. She purports that Joan was jealous of her daughter's burgeoning acting career, to the point of taking over Christina's role in the soap opera The Secret Storm while Christina was in the hospital recovering from an ovarian cyst. (Christina's character was twenty-eight years old; Joan was, at this time, in her sixties.) She also used money to control adult Christina's behaviour, taking her out for expensive meals and paying for taxis while refusing to give Christina money for basic living expenses. This behaviour culminated when Christina learned that she and her brother Christopher had been left out of Joan's will even though Christina believed that they had reconciled with their mother.